Where Have All The Toilets Gone? Adventures In Austerity Portsmouth

Rosy Bremer explores the impact of slashing Council funding on the freedom of local residents to take a slash.

Since 2010 we’ve all learnt a few more synonyms for cuts of all sorts.

Efficiency savings is the one doing the rounds in the NHS, and like the staff in the NHS it is tired, over-stretched and misunderstood.

Budget reductions seems to be the Council’s trusty old favourite, and they’re sticking to it.

Then there’s substantial savings, which is used anywhere and means that people have lost all or some of their jobs and all or some of the services the Council previously delivered have also been lost.

But the term that’s perfect for scrawling on a hastily concocted poster on a stick, means to “hack”, “chop”, “sever”, or “slice”, and also happens to be my all-time favourite, is slash.

How appropriate then that our opportunities for having a slash in the city’s public toilets have been, well, slashed.

Just how did that play out in the Council meetings?

‘So, we’ve got to get spending down again. What can we go for now? Ideas anyone? We’ve already done libraries and children’s centres so shall we freshen our ideas up a bit this time?’

‘Well, I’m just thinking aloud here, but did you say we’ve got to get spending down? By just how much exactly? I mean, does every penny count? It’s probably a silly idea but how about if we stop spending the pennies on the public spending a penny?’

‘Great. I’m liking it. We could slash the slashing facilities.’

‘Any objections? No? So all those in favour? OK, motion passed then. No wait, I mean carried. No, I mean let’s have fewer dumping grounds.’

Or maybe not. After all, aren’t our Council meetings conducted with more decorum, better dialogue and a stronger concern for the greatest good of the greatest number of local residents?

I’ll leave that one with you.

However it came about, there can be no doubt that there are now fewer public toilets on Portsea Island and much more public inconvenience.

We now have a two-tier system of public toilets – and not like German toilets with the little viewing-platform, because that might be a bit too Freudish for our unexamined liking.

Instead, what we have now in Portsmouth is a two-tier system of public toilets and community toilets.

How our decision makers and communicators love to play with language, like so many little kittens unravelling wool on YouTube.

A community toilet is likely to be in a pub, a cafe or community centre and available for fewer hours of the day and fewer days of the week than your bog-standard public toilet.

It is, in local-authority speak, an improvement in service.

So what has become of the former public toilets that once so proudly stood as municipal monuments to good hygiene, public health and a welcome refuge for those caught short? Or, if you’re of the paring back persuasion, what has become of these wasteful drains of draining waste?

My favourite former public toilet in Portsmouth is now a dog grooming parlour, next to College Park. I’m just waiting for the trickle-down effect of this particular bit of private enterprise to hit our streets.

For those of a Branson nature there’s a perfect opportunity on the corner of Albert Road and Highland Road, a small patch of land amongst some bushes opposite the cemetery.

If it’s flat earth and a lot of fresh air you like, then the transformation of the former public toilets outside Milton Village Hall is for you. They’ve been knocked down and now nothing stands in their place.

Good old self-sufficient, get on your bike, small-state nothing – how it must make a miser’s heart sing.

The disappearance of public toilets in Portsmouth tells us all we need to know about economics, politics and society in today’s Britain. The bankers pissed in the wind and we all got caught by the splash-back.


Photography by Richard Williams.